Koch brothers network spending more to save the GOP in the midterms than ever before

Indian Wells, California (CNN)The influential Koch network plans to invest close to $400 million toward protecting Republican majorities and promoting policy priorities in the 2018 midterm election cycle, the network's leaders say -- roughly a 60% increase over the group's 2016 spending.

Billionaire Charles Koch challenged donors and leaders "to increase the scale and effectiveness of this network by an order of magnitude, by another tenfold."
"Because if we do that," Koch said this weekend, "I'm convinced we can change the trajectory of this country."
The network had previously indicated it was to spend between $300 million and $400 million toward both policy and political objectives. The spending target was previously announced last summer; the network's leaders stressed Saturday that they now anticipate hitting the top of that range by Election Day.
    "This network is going to have the largest investment we've ever had in a midterm election in 2018," Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, one of the groups under the Koch umbrella, said Saturday. "So, we're all in."

    Touting tax deal

    A key component of the Koch networks' strategy to counter a Democratic surge will focus on selling the sweeping tax reform passed by congressional Republicans and signed into law by the president last month. The Koch network plans to spend roughly $20 million on that effort alone, said a spokesman, James Davis, on par with the investment the network made last year in pushing for the plan's passage.
    Republicans and the Koch network will have their work cut out for them: When Congress approved the legislation in December, most Americans opposed it. But the plan's boosters have maintained that it will become more popular as the changes begin to take effect this year.
    "Our job is to make sure we shine a spotlight on those benefits that are occurring because of this law, and over time, that should overwhelm what has been a lot of demagoguery," said Phillips. "It is a process, though, and we know that."

    Against the tide

    Republicans are bracing for a punishing election year in 2018. Historically, Phillips stressed, the party in power struggles during a president's first midterm election -- as in 2010, when Democrats lost the House in a historic wave under President Barack Obama.
    "You're going against the tide," said Phillips. "You're going against history."
    Another challenge for Republicans is an energized Democratic electorate, Phillips added, as reflected in the Virginia governor's race last fall and recent special elections.
    "The left is energized," Phillips said. "There's no question about that. And it's prudent for folks to understand that and acknowledge that."

    Working well with White House

    During last year's donor meeting in Indian Wells, no one could predict what the story of 2017 would be for the Koch network: There was deep trepidation within the network about what direction the Trump administration would take, and where its libertarian ethos would fit in with the President's populist agenda.
    The mood, however, has shifted dramatically.
    "It's been a good partnership," Phillips said Saturday. "No doubt about that."
    The network's leaders gushed over the administration's rollback of government regulations and praised Trump's judicial appointments. During the dinner program Saturday, Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican, drew enthusiastic applause from donors when he noted, "We're literally creating a generational change in the direction of the courts."